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#8 Leicester City: What Would The Foxes Do?

Last season was largely disappointing for Leicester City. After two consecutive fifth-place finishes, the hope was that the Foxes could finally break back into the top four and qualify for the Champions League. Many pundits tipped them to beat the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United to fourth spot.

As it turned out, Leicester never really threatened the division’s leading quartet. The highest in the table they ever got was eighth: after gameweek 16, when they thrashed Newcastle United 4-0, and after a 4-1 victory over Southampton on the final weekend of the campaign. That was not quite enough to secure a place in European competition, but it was at least a fifth successive top-half finish for the Premier League winners of 2015/16.

So, what went wrong last term and can Leicester put it right this time around? In hindsight, perhaps a regression was to be expected. It is always going to be tough for a club of Leicester’s size to knock on the Champions League door year after year. Injuries did not help, with the defence particularly hard hit. The absence for long periods of Jamie Vardy, for so long the talisman of this team, was another blow.

Leicester should do better in 2022/23, but they will find it tough to mount a sustained push for the top four, especially as they have not strengthened their squad at all this summer (the Foxes are the only Premier League club yet to make a signing).

See our predictions for all the teams in the 22/23 Premier League season here.

Tottenham and Manchester United should be stronger than last year, and Arsenal have kicked on under the management of Mikel Arteta. Europa League qualification is perhaps the best Leicester can hope for.


Predicted XI (4-3-3)

Kasper Schmeichel; Timothy Castagne, Wesley Fofana, Jonny Evans, James Justin; Youri Tielemans, Wilfred Ndidi, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall; James Maddison, Jamie Vardy, Harvey Barnes.


The coach

Towards the start of last season, Brendan Rodgers was being spoken of as a contender to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the Manchester United manager. But after a five-match winless run in January and February, there were rumours that the Northern Irishman could lose his job at Leicester. Rodgers managed to hang on in the end and he will hope that the experience of last term will make him a better coach in the long run. A slow start this season, though, would see him come under renewed pressure.

Leicester were right to stick by Rodgers. Had he been sacked, he would have been a victim of his own success. The former Liverpool and Celtic boss had overachieved by guiding Leicester to back-to-back fifth-place finishes, plus FA Cup glory in 2021. It is true that last season was disappointing, but Rodgers has earned the right to try and turn the situation around.


Player to watch

To the delight of Leicester fans everywhere, James Maddison recaptured his best form in the second half of last season. The attacking midfielder had gone from the brink of England’s starting XI to outside the squad entirely, and a sustained drop-off in form meant he was no longer guaranteed a place in the Leicester line-up either. Heavily linked with Arsenal last summer, some fans stated they would not mind if he moved on in 2022.

That view will not have many supporters now. After failing to score or assist a goal in his first 11 appearances in all competitions last term, Maddison ended the campaign with 12 goals and eight assists in the Premier League alone. He showed his versatility too: from now on he could be deployed as a narrow right-sided forward in order to accommodate Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall in the centre of the park.

Maddison is a difference-maker who is capable of both creating and converting chances. If Leicester are to achieve their objectives this term, he will be integral.


Transfers

In

None

Out

Eldin Jakupovic (Released)


Our Premier League score card

Goalkeeper: 7/10

Club captain Kasper Schmeichel is still Leicester’s first-choice goalkeeper at the time of writing, although he could depart if the Foxes are able to source a replacement. As things stand they have not done so, which means Schmeichel is still the No.1 for now.

There were signs last term that the Dane was no longer at the top of his game. His reflexes were not as sharp as they once were and mistakes began to creep into his performances. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Danny Ward usurps him at some point this term.

Defence: 7/10

When it came to defensive set-pieces, Leicester were the worst Premier League team last season. They conceded no fewer than 21 goals from dead-ball situations, more than any other side in the division and a better record than just two teams in Europe’s top five leagues. Rodgers must take a large chunk of the responsibility for such organisational shortcomings, but Leicester’s individual defenders need to take more responsibility too.

The Foxes shipped a total of 59 goals overall in 2021/22, the seventh-worst record in the Premier League. The return to full fitness of the excellent Wesley Fofana should help them to tighten up, while Justin James has the chance to remind everyone of his quality after his own injury lay-off – although the fact he is not a natural left-back could be exploited by the strongest opponents in the league.

Elsewhere in the defence, Caglar Soyuncu went backwards last season and Jonny Evans was not quite as reliable as usual. If the Northern Irishman can get back to his best, Leicester should be much more solid this year.

Midfield: 9/10

Aside from Manchester and Liverpool, it could be argued that Leicester’s midfield is not markedly inferior to that of any other side in the Premier League. Wilfred Ndidi has his limitations on the ball – he is never going to be the second coming of Sergio Busquets in terms of passing – but he is fantastic at breaking up opposition attacks and recycling possession efficiently.

Youri Tielemans has been heavily linked with a move away from the King Power Stadium, but the latest reports suggest he could be ready to sign a 12-month extension to his contract. That would be a huge boost for Leicester: notwithstanding some inconsistent displays last term, Tielemans is a wonderful footballer who sets the tempo of the team’s play.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall was one of the breakout starts of the 2021/22 Premier League campaign. A late bloomer, the 23-year-old cemented himself as a member of Leicester’s first-choice XI after only making his maiden Premier League appearance last August. A technically proficient footballer, Dewsbury-Hall impressed with his all-round midfield qualities.

“Kiernan’s done incredible well this season, and it’s important he’s given time and the space to improve and mature,” Kasper Schmiechel said of the Nottingham-born man. “We’ve got a player on our hands if he’s able to be kept out of the press limelight.”

Attack: 8/10

Jamie Vardy sits 14th in the list of Premier League all-time top scorers, ahead of such esteemed names as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Dwight Yorke and Ian Wright. He has been a magnificent player for Leicester – probably the greatest in their history – and still managed to find the back of the net 15 times in 2021/22 despite enduring an injury-hit season.

Rodgers will need to manage Vardy’s minutes carefully, but in Kelechi Iheanacho, Patson Daka and Ayoze Perez, he has three forwards who offer a variety of qualities. There is also the option to pair Vardy with one of them; a front two of the former England international and Iheanacho has worked well at times in the past.

Out wide, Harvey Barnes’ speed and direct running makes him a key part of the Leicester attack, particularly in phases of transition. James Maddison was the club’s Player of the Year last term and will look to pick up where he left off in 2022/23.

See our predictions for all the teams in the 22/23 Premier League season here.

Bench: 7/10

Like many mid-table Premier League teams, Leicester are well stocked in certain areas and less so in others. They look to have reasonable cover in defence, with none of Ricardo Pereira (right-back), Luke Thomas (left-back), Caglar Soyuncu and Jannik Vestergaard (centre-backs) likely to start when everyone is fit.

The jury is still out on several back-up midfielders, though, namely Dennis Praet, Papy Mendy and Hamza Choudhury. Rodgers will hope that Youri Tielemans, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Wilfred Ndidi are able to stay fit.

Patson Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho provide alternatives to Jamie Vardy as a central striker, but Rodgers would no doubt like to add another couple of options in wide areas.


Final score: 38/50

For all the criticism of Leicester last season, West Ham United were the only non-big six side to finish above them in the Premier League table. The Foxes may have missed their best chance to qualify for the Champions League for only the second time in the club’s history, but we do not expect them to spend much of 2022/23 languishing in the bottom half of the table as they did last term. Rodgers should make Leicester more competitive again this season.

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